Clallam County deputy prosecutor focus of 2011 sexual harassment suit in Aberdeen
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Paul Conroy, a former Aberdeen Municipal Court judge and Grays Harbor County senior deputy prosecutor, was sworn in as a felony deputy by Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney William Payne on March 3.
Payne said he hired Conroy despite the past litigation based on his references and “on his extensive experience as a judge and felony prosecutor, prosecuting complicated and sensitive felony cases including child sex crimes.”
“Mr. Conroy is a smart, savvy, experienced felony prosecutor and former judge with over 20 years’ experience and has already made a difference in the office,” Payne said.
The addition of Conroy has enabled the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to begin charging Class C felony drug-possession crimes, Payne told county commissioners March 4.
“He was the most qualified applicant,” Payne said Saturday.
Payne was appointed to his post in January after a heated debate among county commissioners. Commissioner Mike Doherty argued against the selection of acting prosecuting attorney Mark Nichols in part because of Nichols’ role in a 2008 age discrimination lawsuit that cost the county $1.6 million in a settlement.
Doherty said Saturday he was unaware of Conroy’s background and wouldn’t have anything to say until he knows more about the situation.
Conroy refuted the 3-year-old harassment claims of former Aberdeen court administrator Aminta Hall.
“The claims were untrue,” Conroy said in a interview at his office Friday. “I strongly disagree with them.”
He added: “There were no admissions of liability on my part or the city’s part because the claims weren’t true.”
Conroy said the Washington Cities Insurance Authority settled the case.
“It didn’t cost the city any money,” he said.
Payne said Conroy disclosed the litigation during his interview.
“It was settled without admissions of liability by either side,” Payne said in a Friday email.
“He provided multiple references, including the Grays Harbor Prosecuting Attorney Gerald Fuller, and former women co-workers,” said Payne, who did not know Conroy until Conroy applied.
“All of his references were contacted and all spoke very highly of him.”
Hill sought up to $2 million in her lawsuit for sexual harassment and stalking.
An independent investigator concluded that Conroy made romantic advances but discredited the stalking claims, The Daily World of Aberdeen reported.
As part of the settlement, Hill agreed not to pursue further claims against Conroy or the city.
“I didn’t commit the claims that were made against me in the lawsuit,” Conroy said.
Although the settlement was paid out of the city’s insurance pool, The Daily World reported that the city paid more than $100,000 to defend Conroy.
Hill’s attorneys, Victoria Vreeland and Erik Kupka, released a joint statement in the wake of the settlement.
“We have been very proud to represent Ms. Hill in bringing her claims of discrimination and retaliation against Paul Conroy, the municipal court judge, and the City of Aberdeen,” they said.
“She made a difficult decision to bring suit to enforce our state laws prohibiting sexual harassment and discrimination. But, those laws are meaningless unless people take action.”
Vreeland, a Bellevue-based civil rights attorney, was not immediately available for comment late Friday afternoon.
Fuller, the Grays Harbor County prosecutor, defended Conroy in a Friday interview with the Peninsula Daily News.
“He’s honest, he’s upstanding, he’s hard-working, and he’s a great guy,” Fuller said, “and an excellent lawyer.”
Payne took the oath of office Jan. 27 to serve out the final year on Kelly’s four-year term.
Kelly, a third-term Republican, stepped down as Clallam County prosecutor for family reasons Dec. 31. Nichols had been her chief deputy since 2006.
The Clallam County Republican Party selected Nichols, Payne and Port Angeles attorney Robert Strohmeyer as candidates for Kelly’s replacement in the commissioners’ interview process.
After the interviews, Doherty, a Democrat, and Republican Jim McEntire voted to appoint Payne to the $127,302-per-year position.
Commissioner Mike Chapman, an independent, supported Nichols during board deliberations.
“It is my position that I was appointed as the interim prosecutor because I was the best qualified candidate with my experience in leadership, business and both civil and criminal law,” said Payne, a former assistant state attorney general from Sequim.
Nichols was appointed Clallam County hearings examiner and at-large court commissioner, earning $118,164 per year, hours after Payne was sworn in as prosecuting attorney. The position was not advertised.
Payne said he intended to keep Nichols on his staff before Nichols resigned.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: March 15. 2014 6:37PM